Harry S. Truman (1884 – 1972) served as the 33rd President of the United States from April, 1945 to January, 1953. Under the presidency of Truman, the United States engaged in an internationalist foreign policy, a departure from its policy of isolationism. His tenure as President was dominated by the Cold War in which he adopted a tactics of containment of Soviet expansion. His Truman Doctrine helped eliminate the Communist threat in Greece and Turkey; and he successfully handled the Berlin Blockade by responding to it with the Berlin Airlift which forced the Soviets to lift the blockade. His other major foreign policy achievements include the $13 billion Marshall Plan which stimulated spectacular economic recovery in war-torn Western Europe. On the domestic front, Truman is renowned for ending racial segregation in the United States Armed Forces and establishing the NSC, the CIA and the NSA. Here are the 10 major accomplishments of Harry S. Truman, who is ranked among the greatest American presidents.

 

#1 The Truman Committee headed by him saved as much as $15 billion

Harry Truman began his political career in 1922 when he was elected district judge in Jackson County, Missouri. This was an administrative rather than a judicial position. He then served as the Presiding Judge of Jackson County from January 1, 1927 to January 3, 1935. During his term, Truman helped coordinate the Ten Year Plan, which transformed Jackson County and the Kansas City skyline with new public works projects. In 1934, Truman defeated incumbent Republican Roscoe C. Patterson to become the US Senator from Missouri. He served in this position from January 3, 1935 to January 17, 1945. From its formation in March 1941 to August 1944, Harry Truman headed the Senate Special Committee to Investigate the National Defense Program, which became known as the Truman Committee. It was formed to find and correct problems in US war production like waste, inefficiency and war profiteering. The committee proved to be highly successful and reportedly saved $10–15 billion and thousands of lives of US servicemen. The Truman Committee made Harry Truman a national figure and he featured on the cover of TIME magazine.

Harry Truman on Time magazine
Harry Truman on the March 1943 cover of Time magazine for his investigations for the Truman Committee

 

#2 He served as the 33rd President of the United States

Harry Truman was running mate of Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1944 presidential election. The Roosevelt–Truman ticket achieved a 432–99 electoral-vote victory in the election and Truman became the 34th Vice President of US on January 20, 1945. He had been vice president for only 82 days when President Roosevelt died on April 12, 1945. The same day, at 7:00 pm, Harry S. Truman was inaugurated as the 33rd President of the United States in the Cabinet Room at the White House in Washington, D.C. In the presidential election of 1948, he defeated the Republican nominee Thomas E. Dewey in one of the greatest election upsets in American history. Harry Truman served as President from April 12, 1945 to January 20, 1953. He is considered one of the greatest presidents in the history of the United States with scholars usually ranking him in the top ten American presidents, most often at #7.

Harry S. Truman after 1948 presidential election
Harry S. Truman with a copy of the Chicago Tribune with an incorrect headline on November 3, 1948, after winning the election the previous day

 

#3 The Truman Doctrine helped in eliminating Communist threat in Greece and Turkey

The Truman Doctrine was the American foreign policy under Truman to counter the expansion of Communism. At the time, the Greek Government was involved in a civil war against the Greek Communist Party; and Turkey was also under pressure from Soviet expansion in the Mediterranean area. Great Britain, which had previously aided these nations, informed the United States that it could no longer provide military and economic assistance to them. On March 12, 1947, Harry S. Truman announced the Truman Doctrine to the US Congress and the Congress responded to it by granting $300 million in military and economic aid to Greece and $100 million to Turkey. American aid ultimately helped Greece and Turkey survive the Communist threat. The Truman Doctrine became the foundation of American Cold War policy around the world. It shifted US foreign policy towards the Soviet Union from détente (a relaxation of tension) to containment of Soviet expansion.

George F. Kennan
George F. Kennan – Whose writings inspired the Truman Doctrine

 

#4 His Marshall Plan stimulated spectacular economic recovery in war-torn Western Europe

On April 13, 1948, President Truman signed the Marshall Plan to aid 18 Western European nations affected by the Second World War. Officially the European Recovery Program, it gets its popular named from US Secretary of State George Marshall. During the four years the plan was in effect, the United States donated $13 billion (equivalent to $189.39 billion in 2016) to help rebuild post-war Western European economies. The Marshall Plan aid was divided among the participant states roughly on a per capita basis with United Kingdom (26%), France (18%) and West Germany (11%) being the largest recipients. Its aim was to remove trade barriers, modernize industry and prevent the spread of communism. The years 1948 to 1952 saw the fastest period of growth in European history. Industrial production increased by 35% and agricultural production substantially surpassed pre-war levels. The poverty and starvation of immediate post-war years disappeared and the following two decades saw unprecedented economic growth in Western Europe. Though Marshall Plan was not solely responsible for this, it did play a part in the recovery of Western Europe.

George C. Marshall
George C. Marshall – U.S. Secretary of State after whom the Marshall Plan is named

 

#5 The Berlin Airlift is considered one of his major foreign policy successes

On June 21, 1948, during the multinational occupation of post–World War II Germany, the Western Block, or the Capitalist Block of the Cold War, introduced a new currency called the Deutsche Mark in Germany. The Soviets interpreted this new currency as an unjustified, unilateral decision; and refused to permit its use as legal tender. They blocked the Western Block’s railway, road and canal access to the sectors of Berlin under Western control initiating the Berlin Blockade, the first major international crises of the Cold War. At the time, West Berlin only had 36 days’ worth of food and 45 days’ worth of coal. In response to the Berlin Blockade, the Western Block led by US organized the Berlin Airlift to deliver food and other supplies to the city’s population by air. They flew over 200,000 flights in one year, providing to the West Berliners up to 8,893 tons of necessities each day. The success of the airlift ultimately forced the Soviets to lift the blockade of West Berlin on May 12, 1949. The Berlin Airlift is considered one of Harry Truman’s great foreign policy achievements.

U. S. Air Force plane during the Berlin Airlift
A U. S. Air Force plane during the Berlin Airlift with more than 20 tons of flour for West Berliners

 

#6 Harry Truman helped in the formation of UN and NATO

Harry Truman strongly supported the creation of the United Nations. In 1945, he helped establish the UN as had been planned by his predecessor Franklin Roosevelt. On 26th June 1945, he signed the United Nations Charter, the foundational treaty of UN. Truman was also a strong supporter of a formal peacetime military alliance among the Western Block. On 4th April 1949, the United States, Canada and several European countries signed the North Atlantic Treaty establishing the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Its aim was to contain Soviet expansion and to build new security structures in support of democratic ideals. Truman appointed General Dwight D. Eisenhower as the first Supreme Commander of NATO. Initially consisting of 12 nations, NATO now has 28 countries as its members. It remains an influential international organization. Other major achievements of Harry Truman in foreign policy include his recognition of the State of Israel on May 14, 1948, 11 minutes after it declared itself a nation. He did so against the advice of officials who feared going against the populous Arab states.

 

#7 President Truman established the NSC, the CIA and the NSA

On July 26, 1947, President Truman signed into law the National Security Act of 1947. The act merged the Department of War (renamed as the Department of the Army) and the Department of the Navy into the National Military Establishment (NME), headed by the Secretary of Defense. It also created the Department of the Air Force and the United States Air Force, seperating the Army Air Forces into its own service; and protected the Marine Corps as an independent service, under the Department of the Navy. Apart from military reorganization, the act established the National Security Council (NSC) to advise and assist the president on national security and foreign policies; and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the first American peacetime non-military intelligence agency tasked with gathering, processing, and analyzing national security information from around the world. In 1952, President Truman officially formed the National Security Agency (NSA), a military intelligence organization to gather foreign signal and communications intelligence to protect the national security systems of the nation.

C.I.A. Seal
Seal of the Central Intelligence Agency (C.I.A.) of the United States Government

 

#8 He put an end to racial segregation in the United States Armed Forces

Harry S. Truman was committed to reduce racial discrimination against African Americans. In 1947, he presented a detailed ten-point agenda of civil rights reforms but due to the power of southern Congressmen, he was unable to implement any significant civil rights legislation. He thus resorted to executive actions. On July 26, 1948, President Truman issued Executive Order 9981, which abolished racial discrimination in the US Armed Forces. It set up the President’s Committee on Equality of Treatment and Opportunity which successfully oversaw racial integration of the US Armed Forces. Another 1948 Executive Order of Truman made it illegal to discriminate against persons applying for civil service positions based on race. On June 12, 1948, Truman also signed into law the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act which enabled women to serve as permanent, regular members of the armed forces.

The Chicago Defender announces Executive Order 9981
The Chicago Defender announces Executive Order 9981

 

#9 The Housing Act of 1949 was passed during his tenure

In January 1949, Harry Truman put forward an ambitious set of proposals which became known as the Fair Deal. However, his proposals were defeated by the Conservative Coalition in Congress. The only major Fair Deal bill that was enacted was the Housing Act of 1949. Among other things, it extended federal money to build more than 800,000 public housing units; provided federal financing for slum clearance programs; and increased authorization for the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) mortgage insurance. As a result of the Act, federal government spent $13.5 billion on urban redevelopment and slum clearance projects between 1953 and 1986. It facilitated a rise in home-ownership and building of huge public housing projects. The Housing Act of 1949 was of great importance as it expanded federal role in mortgage insurance and construction of public housing; and ultimately shaped the growth of American cities in the post-war era.

President Truman signing the Housing Act of 1949
President Truman signing the Housing Act of 1949

 

#10 He passed legislation to allow immigration of 200,000 refugees of World War II

Other major legislation passed by the Truman administration include 1945 National School Lunch Act to provide low-cost or free school lunch meals to students through subsidies to schools; the Atomic Energy Act of 1946, which transferred control of atomic energy from military to civilian hands and set up the United States Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) for peacetime development of atomic science and technology; the Employment Act of 1946, which created a clear legal obligation on the part of the federal government to use all practical means to promote maximum employment, production and purchasing power; and the Displaced Persons Act of 1948, which allowed admission into the United Sates of around 200,000 Europeans and 17,000 orphans displaced by World War II. Also, the Twenty-second Amendment to the US Constitution was made which set a term limit for election and overall time of service to the office of President, making a president ineligible for election to a third term.

Presidential Portrait of Harry S. Truman
Official Presidential Portrait of Harry S. Truman, painted by Greta Kempton

 

Harry Truman and the Atomic Bombings

On May 8, 1945, 61st birthday of Truman and a few weeks after he had assumed presidency, Germany surrendered unconditionally marking the end of World War II in Europe. However, war with Japan raged on and was expected to last at least another year. In was only in April that Truman had come to know about the Manhattan Project and the details of the atomic bomb, which was almost ready. In August, Japan refused the Allied demand of surrender. In response, Truman approved the use of atomic bombs to end the war leading to the infamous bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which killed at least 129,000 people. Truman’s decision remains a subject of debate to this day. He believed that an invasion of Japan would have been worse and justified his decision stating that “it was done to save 125,000 youngsters on the American side and 125,000 on the Japanese side from getting killed and that is what it did. It probably also saved a half million youngsters on both sides from being maimed for life.” However, critics believe that conventional bombing campaign along with naval blockade would have led to surrender of Japan with less damage. They consider the bombings as state terrorism; dehumanization of the Japanese people; and a US Cold War tactic to intimidate the Soviet Union.

13 COMMENTS

  1. Your excellent summary of Truman’s contributions greatly complements my own research as I am writing a book noting his influence on my own life and those of my age cohort. So long as I were to provide attribution, might I please have permission to quote or paraphrase this post? If so, please acknowledge same to me at the email address that I see I am to provide below as I respond to compliment you. Great job! Thanks!

    Hoping that you will grant my request, I would ask that you provide the proper attribution/credit wording for me to use. Thank you very much for your consideration.

  2. Thank you for renewing my history of the Truman years that spilled over into world history. Born in 1941 I lived thru all those years and the aftermath of WW II. It was a great time to grow up in those years. I had an uncle, a Marine, who fought in the Pacific islands campaigns and came home, but so many of our boys didn’t return. And I learned to garden, and wear home made shirts, my Dad could sew better than my Mom.

  3. This article really enlightened me…. I didn’t know all the things that President Truman accomplished. I read something he said about socialism that is the best definition I have heard. He said, “socialism is a scare word; the name for almost anything that helps ALL the people”. Thanks–now I’m going to get a book on his life and read it!

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